Theoretical and Review Articles

Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

, Volume 12, Issue 5, pp 769-786

Working memory span tasks: A methodological review and user’s guide

  • Andrew R. A. ConwayAffiliated withUniversity of Illinois Email author 
  • , Michael J. KaneAffiliated withUniversity of North Carolina
  • , Michael F. BuntingAffiliated withUniversity of Illinois
  • , D. Zach HambrickAffiliated withMichigan State University
  • , Oliver WilhelmAffiliated withHumboldt University
  • , Randall W. EngleAffiliated withGeorgia Institute of Technology


Working memory (WM) span tasks—and in particular, counting span, operation span, and reading span tasks—are widely used measures of WM capacity. Despite their popularity, however, there has never been a comprehensive analysis of the merits of WM span tasks as measurement tools. Here, we review the genesis of these tasks and discuss how and why they came to be so influential. In so doing, we address the reliability and validity of the tasks, and we consider more technical aspects of the tasks, such as optimal administration and scoring procedures. Finally, we discuss statistical and methodological techniques that have commonly been used in conjunction with WM span tasks, such as latent variable analysis and extreme-groups designs.